China NewSpace No. 6: What does China think of American NewSpace?

Hint: it's about defense

Welcome back to China NewSpace, your weekly look into the Chinese private space industry. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you should sign up here.

If you’re a huge space nerd like me, you watched with bated breath the successful (thank god) launch of the SpaceX Demo-2 flight that brought two astronauts to the International Space Station this past Saturday, marking the first time that a private company has launched people to space. This is an incredibly exciting milestone for private space exploration.

In that vein, I’ve translated an article from the Science and Technology Daily, the official publication of the Ministry of Science and Technology, which I think gives some good insight on how the Chinese government views the American private space industry (which I also think explains why they have been focused on building up their own private space sector).

I’ve also got some cool links to articles about China’s satellite internet investment and how ChinaSat is probably overvalued, plus the video streaming company Bilibili is launching its own satellite for some reason. Enjoy!

Bilibili, YouTube of China, to launch satellite for video content production-cnTechPost
(BilibiliSat!)

Translation

The debate around how we in the West ought to view the privatization of space often centers around two poles: it’s good because there are things that private industry can do that governments can’t do (or can’t do as efficiently), or it’s bad because it means that space, which ought to be a public good, will now be sold off to wealthy corporations.

I’m not going to wade into this debate here, but it’s useful to keep in mind our own mental framework to understand how the arguments can be different in other places. In China, there are certainly many fans of American space companies, especially SpaceX. Here is a particularly laudatory example of this genre (link in Chinese).

I haven’t come across as much of the skepticism that many in the US have, especially on the left, towards SpaceX and private space firms in general in the Chinese discourse. If you have some examples to prove me wrong, I’d love to see them.

To the extent that there is skepticism towards SpaceX in China, it seems to be promoted by the Chinese government. In contrast to the private vs government framing in Western discourse, the Chinese official discourse views the private space sector as an extension of, or a partner to, the government.

This article, American Counterparts are Taking Off, China's Private Aerospace Grows Stronger by Hu Dingkun at the Ministry of Science and Technology’s official publication, points to SpaceX and Blue Origin as examples of leading American private space companies, and argues that China’s private space sector is comparatively small and undeveloped. It also points to coverage by SpaceNews to show that even though Chinese newspace is behind the curve, it’s being watched carefully by overseas media.

Hu argues that American private space sector is not entirely private because it has grown through government support:

Presently, the technology and scale of the US private space sector are unique in the world; this is closely related to the support of the US government. Especially since Trump has come to power, the US government appears to be more dedicated. On May 24, 2018, Trump signed "Space Policy Directive-2" ordering the Department of Commerce, the Department of Transportation and other agencies to simplify the approval process for private space companies engaging in launch, remote sensing, radio frequency use, and other activities…

The article also mentions DARPA’s Launch Challenge as a further case of US government support.

Hu suggests that the rationale for government support of private space business comes down to great power competition:

Why is private space favored by the US government? In addition to the “above board” reasons of cost reductions and driving economic development, the deeper reason is to prepare for future space competition. Increasing the size of its private space sector and advancing its technology gives the United States more options and stronger capabilities to enter space and conduct space operations, which solidifies its leading position in space.

It isn’t a particularly long read, and it’s definitely worth it, so I recommend that you read the whole article here.


Interesting Links

Blaine Curcio has written a couple of really interesting articles lately at West East Space:

  1. China’s Satellite Internet Ambitions

In this one he covers the rise in spending since the NDRC included satellite internet as a “new infrastructure.”

He speculates that Chinese policymakers might expect that a post COVID-19 world will be more online and that the government made a push for satellite internet to get ahead of this trend.

  1. Can we Talk about ChinaSat’s Market Capitalization?

Here he analyzes the strangely high stock price of ChinaSat, a state owned satellite operator that listed a small amount of its shares in an IPO in 2019:

ChinaSat’s share price skyrocketing has occurred at a time when the rest of the industry is facing share price pressures. For example, when looking at the 1-year return for SES, Eutelsat, and ChinaSat, we see that SES has dropped 53%, Eutelsat has dropped 42%, and ChinaSat has increased….532%. Even ChinaSat partial subsidiary APT Satellite—a company traded in Hong Kong but largely owned by ChinaSat—has seen its share price fall by around 15% this year, with its market cap of HK$2B representing the normal ~1.5ish years of revenue.


News Roundup

May 27: iSpace successfully completed a 500-second long second start test of its liquid oxygen methane engine for the Hyperbola 2

May 31: A Long March-2D rocket launched from Jiuquan carrying two satellites, the Gaofen-9 and a satellite for the Beijing-based company HEAD Aerospace Technology. The Gaofen-9 is the latest addition to the China High-resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS), a government project of the China National Space Administration. The HEAD Aerospace satellite is meant for remote sensing and IoT applications.

June 1: Tiktok competitor Bilibili announced that they’re going to launch their own satellite into orbit later this month to produce educational science content


Until next time

My name is Cory Fitz and I write the China NewSpace newsletter. To better understand China’s young and rapidly growing private space industry, China NewSpace will bring you translations of topical Chinese-language blog posts, articles, etc., as well as a roundup of interesting links and relevant news.

If you have any comments for me, feel free to contact me at chinanewspace@gmail.com

You can also find me on Twitter at @cory_fitz